Sorry for slow posts lately, I am on vacation in Montana with my sons Taylor, and Andre. When I return to Seattle I will research the new machine, Slayer, and post a review. Hwoever, while casting hoppers into the Montana rivers I often ponder the beautiful synergies that develop around a business if passion, rather than strictly cash, are the core values over time.
In our case, Espresso Vivace is 21 years old. It is true I shamelessly set out to create a legend from the beginning, but floating down the river of time it seems that perfecting espresso is much more compelling than legend management activities like seminars and symposiums. So I am lucky, my core value trurns out to be perfecting espresso as a culinary art. As I have pointed out in past articles on staff culture, knowing thyself is paramount in creating a passion driven business, and a small business will strip you to your core values in a few years due to it’s difficulty.
So if you live for the perfect curve in a glass bowl, or the sublime patina on a violin body, or even the fragrance of freshly roasted coffee, if you can actually form a business around it beautiful things sprout all around it like flowers after a desert rain.
Many aware people on every corner of our Earth are very interested in sustainability right now. Since my Greenpeace days I have been one of them. In coffee this is often labeled organic, shade grown, or bird friendly. What I find is that pursuing pure sweet arabica coffees without compromise means that the farms we buy from have shade trees, clean water, and do not use harsh chemical fertilizers. If the farms are not sustainable, the coffee can taste acidic when roasted to a Northern Italian degree. Shopping sustainably is more important then posting signs in your shop advertising sustainability. And key to this essay, it is just an artist persuing a beauftiful goal…creating sweet caffe espresso, it is not necessary to hold the world on your shoulders.
The same can be said for fair trade issues. When buying the best mild arabicas we pay well above the benchmark set for Fair Trade. And as you know, underpaid, unhappy workers can not produce top quality in any endeavor. So the pursuit of the sweet coffee also encompasses equitible treatement of the the people harversting and processing these coffees.
Another less obvious aspect of running these espresso bars for the purpose of creating coffee as art, is the effect that competition has on issues like racial, or gender discrimination. The model leap frogs the entire problem. In Seattle I cannot compete if I am so stupid the I cannot recognize talent because it happens to occur in a black person, or some exotic gender bender. My competitors, which there are MANY, will clean my clock if have a bias against a class of people before I even meet them.
There are also very sublime things that begin percolating on both sides of the counter in an artisn coffee business. On our side, Vivace’s fidelity to coffee as an art gives young talented people something to believe in. And, the ones that truly love coffee stay for years because of it . They come to work happy and eager to create beauty in the aroma and appearance of our cappuccino, and caffe macchiato. The entire business becomes a pleasure to run.
I say both sides of the counter because the customers also form a community around the belief that when they walk in the door, they are getting something that transcends commerce. We live in their imaginations, we actually mean something to them on a personal level. . This was powerfully illustarted to me when we lost the Roasteria to Sound Transit. I built Brix on the other end of Broadway, with very little foot traffic, and no institutional support. I opened Friday Sept. 26th with no ads and not even a sign over the door. On Saturday it was packed, and I mean PACKED. When the customers really love the coffee they treat the staff very well and they are free to be artists, which as you might know, need a lot of attention.
OK I blasted through some very interesting subjets. For a complete development, and a chance to weigh in yourself, come to my talk at Seattle’s September Coffee Fest.
Artisan Business-Service Memo
This is one of my favorite pieces to try to describe what we do as espresso pros….it started out as an in-house Quality Control (QC) memo but I hope you find it useful.
Mission, Style and Artistry
The espresso pro is so many things at once, a host, an artist in a highly technical culinary art, a performer on an exotic glittering stage, counselor, listener, friend and purveyor of caffeine. People come in dim and dappled and they need their coffee. We do our magic and shazam, time to rock and roll. (The ultimate transformation by coffee has been depicted in a Gennedy Taratofsky episode of “Dexter” entitled “Coffee”.) This the first reality of the barista: seeing and greeting people that may not be ready to face the world.
Here I reveal my dinosaur leanings…after seventeen years I am very concerned to be a good, approachable host. What is the style that allows a pro to put people at ease that are shuffling along pre-coffee in the morning? It is compassionate listening that makes you approachable day after day by the widest variety of people. Many espresso bar owners advocate a high chat style in a barista with lots of intrusive personality and flattering comments. I call this the personality trap. It may increase sales for a year or so, but ultimately the chatty one moves on, and the many of her customers may go with her. Putting out a lot of chat is also difficult on the barista, seeing 400 people a day, and they will burn out. To be a long term pro, a barista must conserve energy and use it where it counts, speed and quality. Also, if you are intent on making people feel great with flattering chat, you attract people that need that. Again, my approach is old school: I believe that when they come in my door they want a cup of coffee, my customers already have a life.
(Therein lies my only issue with the barista contests. They are very good for highlighting this new profession and developing skills to create beautiful espresso coffee. And they offer a few winners a career path in barista training and consultation. But they focus so much on the barista as a sort of a star that the young winners can get a self centered attitude and come to believe the whole thing of being a pro-barista is a showcase for their talents. Perhaps points for gracious, approachable style should be awarded. A customer can feel left out of this quite easily…and ordering a cappuccino can feel like getting guitar lessons from a rock star.)
So the encounter begins with eye contact. I would like my barista to make eye contact with anyone within the door within a few moments after they have crumpled in. Human beings are an aggressive, territorial species, and this says “ welcome to my space”. A nod to say”be right with ‘ya” is all you may have time for, that’s fine, the eye contact says welcome. Once they are in it is time for…
This business is based on regular customers. And if your concept is gourmet, the customer is possessed of enough sensitivity to appreciate the difference in your espresso. A sensitive person may not want a lot of personal conversation every day before coffee so I teach my staff to try to stay away from leading questions such as “how ‘ya doing today?” (Whadda ya’ mean how am I doin’ today? I am doin’ without my coffee that’s how.) Focus the encounter right away on the customers needs, using phrases like “what can I get ‘ya?”, “coffee time?” or that reliable old standby “good morning”. Keep it simple and welcoming to be approachable every day.
Then, you listen and get it right. Repeat the order back to them, emphasize the details they have stressed such as not too hot, or vanilla but not too sweet. The number one key to speed on a bar is getting the order right the first time. To endear them to you forever memorize the drink within two visits and simply greet them with “the usual today?”. People yearn to be acknowledged and listened to in our highly paced urban cultures and this is how we honor their choice to come in…we listen. When they need to talk you will know it. And, of course we chat when a customer initiates it and we have time. We would not be in this business if we did not like people.
So first and always you are a respectful, approachable host to your establishment.
is a dance of fluid efficiency. As a performance art, making espresso is clearly a case of the form following the function. The function, of course, is to prepare the finest espresso drinks in the shortest amount of time. And because it is a culinary art, people will consume the coffee, so every action must ooze confidence. This was the quality I most admired in the Italian baristi I observed, a rock solid underlying confidence that infused their motions with almost feline grace. And moving with a silky smooth physical style mimics the beauty of the espresso oozing from the spouts, or the velvet undulations of the steamed milk forming the rosetta patterns in the cup. Smooth efficiency is also the number two key to speed on a bar. Rushing will slow you down with mistakes and creates anxiety in the customers watching your performance. At best, the performance of the barista and the culinary art being created share same flowing style. And as any serious music student knows, the key to confident performance is in the preparation.
First, set the stage. Any smooth performance begins with all the props being where they should be. Arrange your work area according to your working style. For me, milk containers should be opened in advance ( I hate wrestling with the little plastic rings, or worse, forcing open reluctant paper cartons in a slam), and arranged for easy access in your refrigerator. Syrup bottles are shiny, not sticky, and arranged in order of usage, with vanilla and almond right up front. The all-important rag hierarchy is established with a porta-filter wiping rag, counter-top rags (sanitized), steamer rag, and floor rags to act as mini-mops for small disasters. Back-up rags are one step away. Cups both porcelain and paper are clean and well stocked. Porcelain, of course are stocked on top of the espresso machine to pre-heat them. Back-up stock is one step away. Grinders should be detailed and stocked with fresh coffee, the back-up coffee within arms reach. Utensils, coffee brushes, scrubbing pads for the brass brewing surfaces, a small tool kit, band aids, pens, foam spatulas, and on and on…everything where it should be before the door is opened. Beginning to get the picture…
Good, because you are an important aspect of the picture. The espresso professional, at minimum, should present a clean appearance in grooming and clothing. Beyond that minimum, some style and flair is nice. Me, I favor dark tight fitting knits and a black or dark brown four-way apron around the waist. No chicken slaughtering, full coverage apron for me. (Yes, yes…I know that I cut my first video, Caffe Latte Art in a very purple bib-apron….ahhh…whadda ‘ya gonna do?) I like to look sharp and sassy, vaguely Euro-mutt, and always urban. For my staff I allow a wide range of personal style because I need them to be comfortable first and foremost to do a top job. But they must be clean.
Because it is a culinary art polished professionalism is the best style. This can be reflected in each motion a barista makes, packing, steaming, and pouring. One of my five-year baristi, Kasey, displays his artistry from the moment he picks up the packer. He has a flourish when he a picks up the packer to address the coffee. He sweeps it off the counter and the packing head sort of does a little circular motion on the way to the porta-filter, which he repeats after tapping. The circular embellishment is not dramatic and large, it is smooth and subtle, having developed naturally over thousands of shots. You have to be watching to notice…beautiful. It is his signature as a very experienced culinary artist.
Free pouring caffe latte art is the grand finale in this two minute dance. Even after sixteen years of watching these patterns ooze forth from our steam pitchers I still find them mesmerizing, and so do our customers. It is a classic finish that will stand the test of time. The beauty of the free poured patterns is that they are a natural extension of the behavior of the two liquids, espresso and steamed milk, combining. The sensuous, flowing form of the rosetta pattern echoes the viscous beauty of the espresso pour itself. They are silky foams doing what they want to do. The velvet beauty of the rosette is accomplished with an effortless flick of the wrist, and is never labored or time consuming. Again, it is the form following the function that is the mark of the professional.
For heavier foam, such as we prepare for cappuccino and espresso macchiato, the heart shape is my favorite to pour. The master of these patterns is Luigi Lupi. He is a very talented Italian barman, working in Verona Italy, that has decided to share his artistry with the world through a video entitled “Decorated Cappuccinos”.
There is another school of latte and cappuccino art that employs a scribe-like tool to draw the foam into beautiful patterns reminiscent of the swirls employed by French pastry chefs. Although these cappuccini are beautiful, laboring over the customers coffee with a tool just will not do on an espresso bar. For me personally, I would not appreciate a barista bending over my cappuccino and tooling it. These beautiful patterns would work well in a classy restaurant where the waiter simply appears from the kitchen with the artistic cappuccino. There is a master in Australia, George Sabados, sharing his knowledge of these creations in a video entitled “Coffee Making Skills”.
Counselor, Listener, Friend
Over the years I have had a number of strange encounters between baristi and my customers. I will never forget a strapping young man that worked in construction and bristled with masculine energy and coiled muscles, walking in to complain about rudeness he felt he had received at my sidewalk bar down the street. He had been coming for years and as he began to talk about his encounter his lower lip began trembling, his face grew red, and he began to cry. In his mind, he had been betrayed by a friend.
I have seen repeats of this scenario many times in sixteen years. There is something about making coffee for someone every day that transcends commerce. Perhaps it is our compassionate listening style that slips us past people’s urban defenses. But, people will bond with a good barista. This vulnerability on the part of regular customers requires compassion and kindness on the part of the barista.
However, when you see hundreds of people a day a pro barista might run into a few that are not worthy of kindness. For us the customer is always right, and if this does not prove to be the case, the customer is gone. I empower my staff to “eighty-six” abusive customers telling them that in my absence the barista on duty is the host of this espresso bar. In my sixteen years this has led to one or two instances of a customer being asked to seek coffee elsewhere. My people are professional baristi and are given my respect when they don the apron. Trust is the only way to manage people with the sensitivity and intelligence to produce espresso on our level, and knowing they have my trust relaxes them and fosters the confidence that is the basis of the whole bar persona.
If a pattern of customer vs.barista squabbles develops then of course the barista is gone.
Clearly we have a new profession. To learn the intricacies of espresso preparation requires years of experience. We have shown the pro-barista to be a culinary artist and performance artist at the same time. This begs the question of salary-how can we espresso bar owners ever pay them enough to keep the good ones in the job? There is a limit to the posted price for espresso drinks. Artistic coffee can go as high as 20% over the corporate chains, maximum. Even charging that much is risky. Fortunately, espresso lovers are very appreciative of the artistic work that we do-they pay my people directly.
The answer lies in bar design to encourage tipping.
If you have ever seen the crowd in Lance Burton’s magic shop in Vegas after his act you will see an amazing sight. Normally sane people are just tripping over themselves to buy 5 cent “Coin Vanishing” gimmicks for $10 each. It proves that if you amaze and inspire people their wallets just fall open. The same is true for the espresso performance. So place the cashier adjacent to the final pouring area. A customer is paying as the drink is flowing into the cup, saying “Oh my god…that’s so beautiful I hate to drink it” and stuffing bills into the tip jar.
Artisan Business-Hello Brix
After “Goodbye Roasteria” I wanted to post a piece about the new bar we built on Broadway at Brix Condominiums. As you know if you have been reading here, I found out that I was losing my Roasteria Vivace over three years ago. I have mentioned that we had no advertising and completely packed this place the day after opening, a phenomenon I attributed to the power of appealing to the imaginations of our customers by staying true to our charter : to research, develop, and promote caffe espresso as a culinary art. When you do not sell out, a coffee ompany can transcend commerce and take a place in people’s hearts.
Yada, yada, yada….we got that I think.
What I have not mentioned is how perfect Brix came out. The shop is exactly as beautiful as it appeared in my imagination in the months of design and the grind of construction.
Our serving area is designed to look like a small theater…with Imperial Brown granite elegantly surrounded with Caffe Forest Brown marble featuring a swept back curve for each side of the lowered portion. Lowering the main bar here was the idea of Lisa P. who has been with Vivace since 1989. She is pictured in the painting below the rim of the bar at the old cart, handing a coffee to Gunars Berzins, an eccentric Broadway figure who helped open the cart from 1988 until 1992. The lowered section of bar meets ADA code as well for handicapped access.
I designed around this stone color, Caffe Forest Brown and for the first time we have no green in the shop. The colors are brown, yellow and blood red in small quantities as an accent. Here we are looking dowen the counter from the serving area. Note the small imperfections in the radius of the bar top. Caffe Forest Brown marble gets it’s beauty from the red veining within the brown and this is a challenge on radius cuts due to it’s softness. I think the slight wobble in the curvature is very charming and gives the counter a hand done feel.
The walls came out a perfect yellow. An artist named Paul Morris applied seven coats of” Shimmer Stone” to get the yellow just right.
The best thing about Brix however is the clientele. Brix is surrounded by N. Capitol Hill, home to the sweetest people in Seattle.
It is actually over 100 degrees in Seattle today, an all time high I think. I will post this soggy entry and promise to wow you next time with “BarPro” an in-house customer service essay I wrote about five years ago
Equipment Review-Anfim Super Caimano Grinder
The Super Caimano by Anfim is a flat burr grinder available with a reduced head speed of 800 rpm. The burr is 75mm wide and will grind a double shot of espresso in about 12 seconds. This is the first time I have been able to recommend a flat burr grinder since the Mazzer M-100 was around.
Remember, conical burrs will produce espresso crema that is thicker, and contains more aroma and flavor than flat burrs in general. The reason is the production of micro-particles in the conical grind. However tasty these micro-particles are, they are also a bit of a devil for the pro-barista because they migrate down in the cake of packed coffee during the extraction and slow down the flow rate. On temperature stabilized espresso machines like the Synesso Cyncra or GB- series from LaMarzocco flow rate becomes very critical for sugar preservation.
Flat burs, here shown with optional titanium coating, hold an edge here. They produce very consistent particle sizes in the grind and it is a lot easier to extract shots with perfect flow rate. (In our case we are timing a shot at 23 to 25 seconds.) Compared to conical burrs it is a bit of a trade off between potentially extracting more body and aroma and missing the shot timing more often on the bar. ( With our roast slow pours result in hollow tasting shots and fast pours, by far the greatest sin, become sour/astringent.) At the end of the day I’m a gambler though, and will stick with conical burrs but I really liked this grinder, enough to bring it to your attention.
Machining and workmanship are first rate, on a par with Mazzer and Compak in this regard. The doser is particularly smooth and stout, though of course, archaic for those that grind by the cup. I do not know if Anfim plans a direct dosing model.
A far as controlling heat transfer to the burrs the machine rates above average. This model comes with a vent fan, but the grinding head is direct-drive and is coupled to the motor through a metal drive shaft. Despite being direct-drive though it remained cool on a Vivace morning shift until almost 11am. It was a Saturday at Brix so that is probably 65 shots per hour, 325 shots total, which I found to be surprisingly good performance. At the end of the day however, this a light volume grinder. I think it could do fine for shops making 30 shots/hour. We use them for D-Caf.
The pour though, as I mentioned, was a joy on the bar. It was so consistent from shot to shot and even my head trainer, Don Jones, liked working on this machine a lot. One drawback though is that adjusting the grind is done with an incremental collar and is not infinite. It is a step by step grind adjust and the perfect pour is often between settings. On the collar there are currently 70 holes, producing 70 possible grind settings. Anfim is increasing this to 90 on the next shipment according to Mark Barnett who distributes this grinder with his Synesso machnines. (Mark has also mentioned an infinite, stepless grind adjustment is on the way.)
The grinder is available with an electronic timer allowing the motor to run just long enough to grind the shot for you. It is possible to adjust the timer to 1/10th of a second intervals for dosage control.
Overall flow-rate is easier to control on this grinder compared to our DRM conicals, even considering the step grind adjust, because of the consistent particle size.
It is possible to quote the fragrance of the coffee in the shot but flavor lags a wee bit in intensity compared to the same coffee prepared with conical burrs, and mouth-feel is lighter and less silky. But it is easier to hit the pour with this flat burr machine….you decide what works for you.
EQUIPMENT REVIEW LaMarzocco GB-3
How the world does turn…just a few years ago sweet caffe espresso was impossible due to inadequate machine temperature stability, now you can pull perfect shots right in your own kitchen.
Pictured above is the LaMarzocco GB-3. This machine has PID control of the brewing temperature combined with LaMarzocco’s superior “water jacket” group head that brings all that wonderful temperature stability right to the coffee bed with unfailing fidelity. The machine is capable of perfect caffe espresso….coffee that tastes just like the freshly ground beans smell.
The distribution block just above the screen is all stainless steel as well. Stainless does not contribute that rancid bite in the coffee that brass does and contains no lead. This helps produce a cleaner taste but you need to be sure the machine is seasoned after cleaning. Stainless steel will contribute a slight metallic note to the cofffee if no coffee oils are present on the brewing surfaces. (This is true of all espresso machines-too clean is not optimal. Fresh, not rancid, coffee oils must be present for the top coffee.)
The steamer is lever operated and will produce perfect cappuccino foam in a 1/3 Litre pitcher. The key is t be able to roll the entire volume of milk to produce the chiffon texture and it’s no problem on the GB-3.
Not much has been written by me on LaMarzocco’s reliability…an oversight I regret. When something is always there for you you tend to take it for granted. ( The original PID prototype, a two-group Linea that I modified on Ash Wednesday 2001, is still pulling perfect shots for us at my roasting plant.)
The GB-3 is very reliable and is backed by LaMarzocco’s nation wide distribution network for parts and technical support in every major city. (Incidentally, the Franke nightmare is over and LaMarzocco regains controle of their distribution network this coming Monday….yeah!)
I have to believe that this is the ultimate gourmet restaurant machine as well as the perfect home machine. The machine is not cheap, but it operates on 110V power (for the US market), and contains it’s own water tank and waste water resouviour under the grate. This means you save a lot of money on installation which can offset th price of the machine.
A home machine simply must look cool. With lots of chrome combined with Marzocco’s retro oval logo and brown panels this machine weighs in heavy on toy value…the elusive eye candy.
Artisan Business Roasteria Goodbye
In the artist’s rendition above we see Tricia Rhodes and Mary Michaud bringing their classy style to the front bar. For us Mary and Tricia defined the warm, smooth service style of the Roasteria in their eight years of artistry. In the upper left corner you see artist Kurt Wenner installing his mural “An Italian in Algiers” after the opera of the same name by Rossini. To the left are the windows overlooking the park…(it was especially beautiful when it snowed). In the center we see the the “elements” series of espresso education and innovations that occured there. And in the center of the bar our Diedrich IR-12 roaster appears ina bit of digital wizardry. (The producation roasting was actually moved years ago to 1512 11th Ave. across thge park from the shop.) And on the right I appear at my sample roaster selecting coffees to use in the blends. The Roasteria was where I did all my sample roasting and blending research until the day it closed.
Although I had years of advance warning that Sound Transit was going to build the Capitol Hill station there, it did not seem real that it was going to be razed. But finally, on Sunday July 13th 2008 it was finally time to say goodbye to our beloved Roasteria Vivace.
This leafy corner came to my attention in 1991 the year Geneva and I had our first son, Taylor. Although it was tucked away a bit, Iwas swayed by my desire to gaze out on the trees in the park for the rest of my life, making the beautiful coffee, and we opened on September 15th 1992. Locating in a leafy hideout was ana act of youthful hubris on my part and business was slow for the first few years.
With no advertising, it became popular because of you dear coffee lover. You not only sought us out but told your friends and families. Thank you very much.
The Roasteria was the place where caffe espresso was perfected (again with the hubris) ass a culinary art. Our delicious, swirly research was documented there in a book and two videos that have gone world wide as the standard course for preparing and pouring espresso coffee. In filming Caffe Latte Art in 1994 the store appears as half the original size with the Probat L-12 up front where we did all our roasting until 1995.
When I filmed “Techniques of the Barista” there in 1996 you see the full size shop with the Wenner mural over my shoulder. And, I was younger, I had brown hair.
They say that what ever does not kill you makes you stronger, and clouds have silver linings. In our case this has been true. Our new shop is on North Broadway at the Brix condominiums (532 Broadway Ave E.). We opened on September 26th 2008, a Friday. We had no signs, and of course no advertising. The first day broke even and the second day was standing room only. Our daily business volume exceeded the Roasteria within three weeks after opening and…we own it! We have no lease. The mural is there, we have our children’s corner, and finally I have my perfect yellow walls that I always secretely yearned for.
Artisan Business-customer service theory
Customer service does not occur in a vacuum. It is a dynamic. living thing where the customer, over time, is as important as the employee in enhancing, or destroying, fine attentive service.
Let me give an example. In 1989 Vivace opened a cart in the financial district of downtown Seattle at 5th and Union. I had counted pedestrian foot traffic at over 10,000 people/day walking past the corner and thought I can’t lose here it’s a “no-brainer”.
It was a very left brain analysis and completely devoid of any intuiition. If I had just stood on the corner with my eyes closed, smelling the diesel and hearing the roaring buses climbing past the courtyard, I would have run screaming from this “opportunity”. It was, and is, a dirty stressed out place in the city. No one with any artistry in their soul could work there….but I was all ego and ambition and thought of it a the shining center of Seattle.
Three years later we pulled the plug and built the Roasteria on Capitol Hill. In those three years I gained valuable experience in customer service. (Remember, experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you thought you wanted).
The lessons I learned are what this short essay is about. I worked morning shift before Taylor was born in 1991 and the first thing I noticed was a lack of loyalty. One day they buy my beautiful latte made with sweet espresso and topped with the heart shape from perfectly steamed milk , and the next day the same person would dash by with Charbucks or an SBC cup, and man that personally pissed me off.
Pretty soon no one on my staff wanted to work there. They would do it for Vivace but were clearly unhappy after the first year. We had problems with employee theft, showing up on time, abusing equipment, and running a sloppy cart. It just kept getting harder and harder and culminated with me hiring a opportunistic manager that tried to sue Vivace for a hostile work environment. (We won but not before gaining more “experience”). I thought I was in the wrong business for awhile.
Really, I just had a beautiful business concept in trhe wrong place. The district was largely inhabited by people that felt trapped in dead end jobs shuffling paper for the banks or working the teller lines. They were largely numb to the finer pleasures of life and took no joy in our lovely coffee.
As I have illuminated in my “Culture of Excellence” articles (see www.espressovivace.com/archives ) coffee at the top level can only be made by artistic people motived by the beauty that we find in the perfect extraction or latte art pattern. It is a culinary art first, but like the moves of a master sushi chef it is also performance art. These artists require audience appreciation to remain happy at work.
So my theory is that if you do not have appreciative customers you cannot run the bar, the whole thing just crumbles in your hands. The unhappy people at 5th and Union were vampires draining the joy out of myself and my staff. Location is not a numbers game in the city, it is all about finding happy people that are available for culinary experience.
Espresso Equipment-bottomless porta-filter
I think it was in 1991 that John Blackwelll showed me a bottomless porta-filter to play with. (John is a LaMarzocco engineer and has been a key figure in my ability to advance espresso coffee. I will never forget coming in in ’94 all excited because I had figured out how to measure the brewing temperature on the coffee bed. I whipped it out my rig as he dove under his desk and I could hear rummaging…then he appeared with the exact thing, a Fluke KJ digital thermometer with the bead probe threaded up through a hole in the coffee basket. And…this is hardly an isolated occurence in our history…)
Anyway I played with the bottomless PF, marveling at the beauty of the coffee coalescing beneath the basket in perfect chaos until it formed into an undulating stream of crema.
I found it very useful for evaluating grinders and distribution techniques because any problem instantly showed up as excessive white streaking in under the basket.
At left is espresso made on a dull conical burr grinder. Note excessive streaking under the basket.
In 1994 I rejected this for bar use because baristi had trouble timing the pour compared to the old double spout. At the time I was dedicated to staff reading the coffee without the use of timers. However, with the advent of super machines, like the Synesso and LaMarzocco GB-5, flow rate became so critical that we went back to timers. (With temperature stabilized espresso machines extraction time is about 23-25 seconds for the double shot with no margin for error. Old machines were more forgiving and a 30 second pour was often as good as a 25 second pour.) Using timers again for shot duration and volume meant that we could adopt the bottomless PF for all machines at Vivace. It became clear in the last few years that bottomless PF’s produce better espresso coffee.
First there is the brass that the Italian PF is made from. Brass is a soft, porous metal that contains lead. Being porous it traps coffee in it’s surface where it becomes rancid and contributes th dirty-machine taste to espresso flowing over it. This taste is akin to chewing on dirty athletic socks and will not benefit your espresso. (At least I sincerely hope not.)
The bottomless PF eliminated an entire surface from being able to contaminate our coffee and produced a clean flavor profile inching ever closer to a quote of the fragrance.
(It is worth noting that LaMarzocco and Synesso both replaced the brass diffusion blocks with stainless steel. In general moving from brass to stainless anywhere in the brewing surface network makes your espresso have a cleaner, sweeter taste. Diffusion blocks are the masses of metal that your dispersion screens screw into.)
Another benefit we noticed is the very light weight making the barista job easier and more fun.
Drawbacks to the bottomless PF include not being very stable to pack coffee into compared to the old double spout. We hang the handle over the edge of the counter to obtain a flat, stable packing surface. Also, you are not able to serve a single or triple-shot as easily. (Remember, an espresso shot is stratified within the cup. No matter how hard you swirl the cup, the sugars hang around the bottom of the shot. So, you cannot just pour out half the shot and have a true single espresso coffee.)
Personally, I will not brew espresso on any PF except bottomless.
Equipment Review Compak K-10 WBC grinder
The espresso machine has been largely perfected with the advent of the Synesso Cyncra and the LaMarzocco GB-5. (Among many excellent new designs.) The fragrance of a Northern Italian roast can now be enjoyed as a flavor/aroma experience with great fidelity-at least for a few shots. What is now missing is a grinder capable of a fine cut in high volume conditions.
So, I was justifiably excited to see Compak, a Spanish company, making conical burr machines with a head speed of 300 rpm. For my test I chose the WBC (World Barista Contest) model.
The grinder turns a 68mm full conical burr at 300 rpm and grinds 17 grams in about 6 seconds. A bit fast by my standards but the first few shots offered full flavor and a thick, velvet mouthfeel which is the signature of conical burrs compared to flat burrs. (The reason for this is the production of micro-particles in the powder produced by conical burrs.)
As my test continued however, the grind was a moving target, each shot reequired a finer grind than the last shot to remain within the required extraction time of about 25 seconds for a little under 2 oz. of crema.
Back on the bench the reasons became clear.
Here is the smoking gun. Vertical alignment over the motor facilitates heat transfer through the aluminum gear assembly into the grinding head.
Direct heat transfer to the grinding head combined with 10 grams of chambered coffee baking in the dosing chute renders the Compak K-10 WBC useless for gourmet espresso purveyors that grind by the cup.
Welcome and thank you for taking a look at my blog.
My reasons for starting this are to be able to share espresso techniques and equipment reviews with you, unedited. As always I remain true to the coffee and will share with you well tested techniques, glowing accounts of superior machines and grinders if they earn it, and scathing reviews of sub-standard equipment with unflinching honesty.
After twenty- one years in business I have also been amazed by the tenacity and stability of Vivace as a gourmet espresso company. It seems like the longer that you remain true to the coffee the more that you capture the imaginations and hearts of your customers. I found out last year, when my flagship store was seized under eminent domain, that this is worth more than traditional capitol when it comes to surviving as a business. Under the “Artisan Business” banner I will examine the pure pursuit of quality coffee as it relates to sustainability, personal satisfaction, and as a competitive strategy.
In the mix I may add barista profiles and an occasional thought on urban cycling theory and practice.